Thank goodness for YouTube. It has launched countless careers, from baker Rosanna Pansino to beauty guru Bethany Mota and pianist Scott Bradlee. A few years ago Bradlee posted a short clip of himself playing a ragtime medley of ’80s hits, and boom: stardom! The video’s success was the initial impetus behind Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ), an insanely talented cast of about 50 recurring and guest vocalists, musicians, dancers, and everything in between, who perform retro versions of popular songs. For instance, Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop became a vintage 1950s doo-wop, while Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines is rearranged into a bluegrass barn dance rendition. Swing, Motown, blues, ’70s soul. Meghan Trainor, Macklemore, Nicki Minaj, Backstreet Boys—no musical era or artist is off the table for this group. It’s a musical time machine, to say the least. This August PMJ heads to Australia and New Zealand to tour.
M&V: Postmodern Jukebox songs feature many musical styles. What’s your musical background?
BRADLEE: I’m mostly self-taught on the piano. It was mostly classical and scales. I couldn’t find a way to stay interested, so I stopped taking lessons. Then when I was about 12, I heard [George Gershwin’s] Rhapsody in Blue. I didn’t know anything about jazz or ragtime, but I heard this sound and was really interested. That led me to [research] New Orleans artists such as Louis Armstrong. Then I’d sit by the piano, play the CDs and try to figure out how to make sounds that I was hearing. After high school, I moved to New York City to become a jazz pianist but found it was tough to reach people through jazz. Yet when I took songs that people already knew, they would respond to that.
M&V: Is Postmodern Jukebox a band or a project?
BRADLEE: It’s hard to define. It’s not a band because it’s always different people and a different cast. Basically PMG is a working cast made up of about 50 performers. There’s a touring production, which we are bringing to different cities. Plus I post a new video every Thursday on my YouTube channel.
M&V: Your story is special because you’ve had success without a record label.
BRADLEE: Absolutely. There was no record label involved, no kind of corporation or outside funding; it was all self funded. Over some time, our videos started to churn out money, which we used to launch a touring production. We’re grateful to the fans for spreading the word about us because they’re the ones that made it happen.